Is media archaeology necessarily anti-cultural studies?

Friday, January 17th, 2014 by sdileonardi

I want to address a tension (or friction) that emanates from the media archaeologist’s emphasis on form over content, as the limitless and ephemeral choices for media consumption are devalued in favor of an analysis of the specific options, functions, and limitations offered by the particular technological form of consumption. For example, Jonathan Crary questions Bernard Stiegler’s focus on the standardization of experience due to massively common viewing experiences, contending, instead, that “the problem of ‘temporal objects’ is secondary to the larger systemic colonization of individual experience” (52). That is, the critical object of inquiry may not be what Americans are watching (and its gratuitous violence or inherent political ideologies), but how they are watching. Surprisingly (to me), the physical technological commodity that makes consumption possible also contains inherent political ideologies and, as Parikka and Crary both argue, produces a particular subjectivity, i.e. a user.

            This pushes against cultural studies methodologies, which essentially opens an academic umbrella under which one finds the possibility to ascribe meaning to virtually any cultural production, be it music video, television episode, liner notes, grocery lists, etc. Parikka demonstrates how Kittler adopts his own brand of post-humanism by eschewing such phenomenological, body-centric approaches to media studies, favoring instead a post-Foucauldian approach that sees power dispersed not only through the political milieu of experts, paperwork, and institutions, but also through the varying forms of media technology.

            While I approve of the academic freedom cultural studies programs represent—since the world is rich with texts and there are no better persons than humanities scholars to tap into them—I find the media archaeological argument to be rather persuasive. Why continue to produce narratives about the human that invents the machine when it might be more productive, creative, and interesting to consider the machine that invents the human? 

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4 comments on “Is media archaeology necessarily anti-cultural studies?

  1. lola192 says:

    I read this post after publishing my own concerning the role of the human in evolving media technology, but, Sean, I am both fascinated and terrified by your final question: “Why continue to produce narratives about the human that invents the machine when it might be more productive, creative, and interesting to consider the machine that invents the human?”

  2. I’ll echo Lola here. And, I’ll go further to say that I’m a bit worried that this line of critical inquiry could eclipse the human: are we supposed to discard gender issues, for example? I guess it’s unclear to me if this “post-humanist” approach that turns our attention to the machine would actually be productive. Aren’t machines only valuable insofar as their interactions with humanity?

    • kylebickoff says:

      I like the focus on Sean’s question, but I want to focus on your question brandon, “Aren’t machines only valuable insofar as their interactions with humanity?” I’m not sure that I quite agree. Why does the machine only matter if it relates to humanity. Cannot the machine also have significance in relation to the self? In relation to the non-human? What drives our desire to selfishly consider, as humans, the machine only in relation to ourselves rather than the physical world and the non-human?

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